Besides being recent startups on their way toward becoming household names, what do these have in common? Roots in Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley seed-funder that specializes in getting promising new businesses off the ground.
Y Combinator also sponsors a yearly event called Startup School, which puts some of the most talked-about founders and investors in tech ventures in front of 1,000 people who want to learn more. At this year’s Startup School, held in Stanford, California, among that thousand was our own Juvoni Beckford (GSB ’13), who is pursuing a dual concentration in information systems and marketing and a minor in computer science — getting “the best of both technology and business,” as he puts it.
Below are a handful of Juvoni’s many takeaways from Startup School. He describes it as an “exhilarating experience,” and it’s not tough to see why: At one point during the conference, he turned to the person next to him and asked if the man had a LinkedIn profile, so that the two of them could connect. It turned out the man was one of the lead software engineers who helped to build LinkedIn. How about that?
Here are some of Juvoni’s lessons learned.
Speaker: Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO, Facebook
Takeaway: A natural definition of technology is that it extends human capacity. Glasses or contact lenses extend human beings’ ability to see. Computers extend our ability to think. Steve Jobs famously said that “the computer is the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with. It’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.” Mark believes that social networks extend our social capacity and interactions.
Speaker: Travis Kalanick, founder and CEO, Uber (an on-demand car service that functions in select cities based on passenger requests submitted via app, text and web)
Takeaway: Uber helps drivers make more money while giving customers a more efficient way to find a ride. Drivers can see maps of where within the city people need rides, optimized to filter out areas where rides exist. This directs them toward areas of “residual demand.” Math is key to Uber’s profits: The company’s math department predicts demand, guides cars toward riders, optimizes pickup times, creates “smart dispatch” algorithms and determines dynamic pricing.
Speaker: Jessica Livingston, partner, Y Combinator
Takeaway: What is the most common reason startups don’t succeed? They fail to make something that people want. Often, you need to pivot from your original concept. Talk to your users and adjust your ideas accordingly. You often have to try several different approaches to get it right.
Speaker: Ben Silbermann, founder and CEO, Pinterest
Takeaway: It can take a really long time to build something worthwhile. Commitment matters. Stop talking and make it happen. “People say doing a startup is like a marathon. It’s actually a road trip at night with no headlights.”
Speaker: Tom Preston-Werner, founder, GitHub
Takeaway: What you leave out is just as important. Focus over features. Everything you do makes the rest less important.
Photo credits: TopNews.in (Zuckerberg); DigitalCapitalWeek.org (Kalanick); PCMag.com (Livingston); Lucky Magazine (Silbermann); Mixergy.com (Preston-Werner)